Pharma & drug development Science & tech

Could CRISPR reinvent the Covid-19 test?

Obtaining a result from a PCR test can take days, but CRISPR gene-editing technology could be the key to speeding up Covid-19 diagnosis. Researchers led by Jennifer Doudna, who won a share of this year’s Nobel Prize in Chemistry for her co-discovery of CRISPR, are now working on a test that could take just five minutes. Abi Millar unpacks how CRISPR is helping diagnose Covid-19.

Since the start of the Covid-19 outbreak, the gold standard for testing has been polymerase chain reaction (PCR). With the first PCR tests emerging as early as mid-January, they have formed an integral part of many countries’ test and trace protocols.

PCR testing – which directly detects the presence of an antigen – has a sensitivity and specificity of more than 95%. It works by amplifying a specific genetic sequence in the virus, making it easier to spot. However, the process is labour-intensive and relatively slow. It requires specialist laboratory equipment, meaning it can’t be deployed the point of care. Nor can it tell you how much virus is present.

There is a clear need for other forms of testing, which can yield results quickly in non-clinical settings. One possible contender is CRISPR, the gene-editing technology. As well as being suitable for use outside the lab, CRISPR-based diagnostics could return results in just five minutes.

Read the rest of this article in the January 2021 edition of Medical Technology

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